Thursday, July 22, 2010

Yellow M

Star's design and technology class at school had to design and make a balancing toy, using various woodwork and metalwork techniques. This was the end result she brought home. For some reason known only to herself she went for a McDonalds theme:

The balanced M is metal, the red pole plastic dipped wood, and the rest wood. The yellow M was tricky, and took some kind of special saw (I forget the name).

Very creative, I thought. And original. Star is nothing if not original!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

School Plans

I thought I'd jot down the plans the new headmaster has for Star's school - if nothing else, it will be interesting to look back and see how they work out in practice. Star only has a year left there, but Cherub may well move on there after her lower school so the effects of the changes he wants to make are likely to affect her too. Our school system is unusual, in that we have lower, middle and upper schools - Star's is a middle school, for ages 9 to 13. A number of areas tried this three tier system in the 1970s and 1980s, before reverting back to the more typical UK system of primary (age 4 to 11) and secondary (age 11 to 18) schools. This is one of a tiny handful of places where the three tier arrangement has stuck. Personally I like it, and it seems generally popular with parents.

From what he said at Saturday's meeting, the main changes the new head has planned are:

  • Putting children into ability sets for maths, English and science, and possibly a couple of other subjects (currently they are only streamed by ability for maths). 
  • Reducing class sizes to 20 for maths and English, and a little larger for science (currently there are up to 30 in a class)
  • Changing lesson periods from one hour to 50 minutes, and increasing the number of lessons each day from 5 to 6 (he believes teachers should be able to put across just as much in 50 minutes, with lessons becoming pacier and with less time for children to switch off)
  • Using most of the gained lesson periods for extra sports and performing arts
  • Increasing the number of PE lessons from two a week to five a week. Children who really dislike the idea of extra sport can trade in two of the extra PE classes for drama (or other arts based activities?)
  • More leadership responsibility for Year 8 pupils (the 12/13 year olds)
  • Lots more sports teams and fixtures, with anyone who wants to be part of a team able to take part.
  • More, larger scale performance of plays, musicals and concerts.
  • More, and more varied, extra-curricular clubs and activities. 
  • More trips out, to take advantage of all the amazing opportunities available given that we are in easy travelling distance from London (West End shows, London museums and art galleries, and so on)
  • Better communication and feedback for parents.
  • Clearer discipline structure.
That is all I can remember! 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Simple Woman's Daybook: 19th July

Outside My Window ... early morning cloud, with the promise of a hot summer's day. The forecast for the rest of the week features rain pretty heavily, though.

I am thinking ... about a summer routine for myself. One that includes keeping the housework under control. (I'm perennially optimistic, flying in the face of experience.)

From the learning rooms ... went to a meeting at Star's school on Saturday to hear what the new headmaster is planning. Good stuff there, deserving a post of its own.

I am thankful ... for a new short hair cut. Much more comfortable, and it looks better too :).

From the kitchen ... it was supposed to be slow cooked chicken, but I forgot to defrost the chicken so I'm going to switch over today's and tomorrow's menus and do pasta with tomato sauce and meatballs instead.

I am wearing ... pink pyjamas.

I am creating ... white frilly socks, now on the second half of the second sock.

I am going ... to have a laundry blitz today while there is good drying weather.

I am reading ... what is it with reading this year? I just can't seem to get into anything.

I am hoping ... for a relaxing week away, and that it doesn't rain too much while we are on holiday.

I am hearing ... Little Princess on the television. Angel grumbling (understandably) because she has woken up with a stye on her upper eyelid.

Around the house ... not looking! If I don't look, I won't see the dust.

One of my favorite things ... school holidays. I love having my big girls around.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... evening out with old friends from the toddler group I belonged to when Angel and Star were little; orchestra social evening; leaving early on Saturday morning for a week in Cornwall

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ...

Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

Friday, July 16, 2010

7 Quick Takes: 16th July

1. My discovery of the week ... streaming music via Spotify. I can now listen to pretty much any music I like, for as long as I like, for the princely sum of £5 per month (which is about what I was spending on iTunes). There is a free option that allows you to listen for 20 hours in a month (with ads), or a premium option (£10 per month) that allows you to listen offline via an iPad, iPhone or mobile phone app. It is currently only available in certain northern European countries, but I'm sure there must be some equivalent on the other side of the Atlantic. I have been having a ball setting up playlists, and rediscovering old favourites.
2. Lowering the tone of my blog somewhat by switching to the topic of toilet tissue ... does anyone else remember Izal medicated toilet roll? The hard stuff? Staple of the 1960s primary school toilet block? (An outside toilet block in the case of my first school - not pleasant in sub-zero temperatures!). As this article in The Times Online (believe it or not, a review of an entire 30 minute radio show dedicated to this mundane item) put it:

 For those too young and fortunate not to have experienced it, the Izal loo roll was a sort of shiny white thing with the consistency of lino (it was best to scrunch it up before use, make it a bit more malleable) and smelling of coal tar. It didn’t do its job properly, tending to — how to put this delicately — spread the work rather than clean it up. Put another way, it … OK, maybe better not put it another way. Ask an older person if you’re that interested.
There was a shot of an Izal roll in museum piece 1940s house this morning, and the whole experience came flooding back. Bizarrely, I can remember elderly relatives who actually preferred this stuff. Presumably the soft version was considered to be for softies! (Curious question: was there an American equivalent?)

3. Oh my! I just found a Facebook page dedicated to the Izal medicated toilet roll, though with a mere twenty members it has some way to go in the popularity stakes. I can't believe I even looked.

4. I am taking Angel and Star to see Twilight Eclipse this evening. I haven't read the books, and thought the first two movies were sort of OK, but I absolutely hated Kristen Stewart's portrayal of Bella. To me she is just annoyingly wimpish. Surely the Bella of the books must have more personality. Angel is the only one who has read them, and as she saw the first movie before she read the first book, she can't disentangle the image of the movie Bella enough from her picture of the book Bella to tell me whether I am right.

5. I ordered myself a new trombone mouthpiece yesterday as I want to try out a larger size (deeper tone, stronger lower notes, best not to think about the high notes!). Another brass instrument discovery I've made is that you can get mouthpieces in very cool colours. I'm getting the fairly subtle glitter gold - just a hint of shine - though I was seriously tempted by crystal purple to go along with my current sartorial purple patch. A bit too much of a statement, though - and not so good when I move on to a different colour craze.

6. One of my favourite TV series, the genealogy programme Who Do You Think You Are, starts again next week. As a taster, the BBC has shown selected episodes from the American version. Watching people discovering their own personal histories fascinates me. (The fact that they are celebrities is incidental.)

7. Judging by this conversation Cherub is confused by Tevye working from home a couple of days a week:

Cherub: What are you doing today today, Daddy?
Tevye: Working.
Cherub: But are you staying at home or going to your real work?

  Read more quick takes at Conversion Diary

Thursday, July 15, 2010

July and August Plans

A halfway through the month update on how my July plans are coming along:

  • Knit something and finish it - even my knitting is drifting (socks? I feel a sock-knitting urge coming on) - one and a half socks knitted
  • Take Cherub to the butterfly farm - no, and can't see this happening now. We did make it to the local open farm though.
  • Visit the pick-your-own farm to pick strawberries - weather permitting I'd like to take Star and Cherub on Wednesday (Angel has an extra day of school)
  • Spend more time outdoors - not doing great. First it was too hot, now it is too wet.
  • Read (and finish!) at least four books - oh dear! Does two chapters count?
  • Bake chocolate caramel shortbread - check
  • Keep my flowers alive - check (apart from two sad sunflowers that I think have passed the point of no return. They need to be put somewhere with room to grow, but have been abandoned in small pots.)
And a few things I am thinking of trying to do in August (which I need to write down before they fly out of my addled brain):
  • Throw out 30 more bags of stuff (surely one a day must be manageable?)
  • Learn to use the sewing machine and make something wearable for Cherub
  • Help Angel and Star to sew something for themselves
  • Pick your own farm (again)
  • Day trip to Wicksteed Park (I have some discount vouchers)
  • Read to Cherub everyday
  • Do some arty-crafty projects with Cherub
  • Girly shopping day with Angel and Star
  • Movie evenings with the big girls
  • Trip to London to do ??? 
  • Read at least part of a book everyday (even if it is just a few pages)
  • Swim a couple of times a week.
I will also be starting my archive work experience, which will take a day out of each week. If I can manage even two-thirds of that list, I'll be well pleased!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Simple Woman's Daybook: 12th July

Outside My Window ... last week's heatwave broke overnight. It's now cool and damp.

I am thinking ... about the summer. We have a whole month with no plans.

From the learning rooms ...only six more days for Star and seven for Angel before the summer break starts.

I am thankful ... for friends, new and old, real life and online.

From the kitchen ... orange chicken and rice.

I am wearing ... faded blue jeans and a mauve t-shirt.

I am creating ... the second white sock and dishcloths.

I am going ... to town to run some errands. I need dishwasher tablets, wood glue, parcel tape and a birthday gift for Cherub's friend.

I am reading ... Biting the Wax Tadpole by Elizabeth Little. Also have The Diamond Age that I picked up from the library last week ready to start.

I am hoping ... to work on my trombone with a brass teacher friend who has just returned to the UK from Australia.

I am hearing ... music on my laptop through Spotify, which I just discovered. Free streaming music for 20 hours a month (with ads), or unlimited for £5 monthly (no ads). I've been having a ball setting up playlists. I'm in a rock mood this morning - Livin' on a Prayer playing now.

Around the house ... nothing too disastrous, just routine levels of non-exactly-tidy-ness.

One of my favorite things ... music! Playing and listening.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... back to the Apple Store to get my iMac rebooted; meeting for parents at Star's school to meet the new headmaster; band practice; cinema with Angel and Star to see Twilight Eclipse.

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ...

Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Tevye and I went out to a local pub carvery last night, prompting this conversation with Cherub today:

Cherub: What did you have to eat last night Mummy?
Me: Turkey, and beef, and gammon, and roast potatoes, and red cabbage, and peas, and broccoli, and gravy, and Pimms.
Cherub: That was a very big lunch, Mummy. Did your tummy hurt a lot afterwards?

(I don't think it was quite as much as it sounded ... and no, my tummy didn't hurt!)

Friday, July 09, 2010

7 Quick Takes: 9th July 2010

1. In keeping with my new header ... this coming Sunday is Sea Sunday in the UK. I love the sea, but it is easy to forget its dangers, the loneliness of life as a sailor, and the importance of ships and those who sail in them to this island nation. According to this article from the Catholic Herald,  95% of goods and products used in UK are brought in by sea.  Our Lady, Star of the Sea ... pray for sailors and their families.

2. Computer decisions to be made. The iMac that A-Next-Door fixed for me is playing up again ... it is less than impressed at being forced to pretend it is a MacBook. The only way we could get it running without the boot disks - which I am sure are in a safe place somewhere! - was to clone the contents of the MacBook hard drive onto the iMac. This worked fine for a while, but now it is refusing to recognise iTunes, Mail and various other useful pieces of software. Hopefully all it needs is to be reset to factory settings and discover once again that it is really and truly an iMac. I paid a visit to the Apple Store to ask advice, and it seems I have three options: (1) lug the computer into the Store where they will reboot it all for no charge; (2) buy replacement boot disks from Apple Support for a modest fee; (3) upgrade the operating system for a rather less modest fee. Option (3) would mean that I would have the right software to run an iPad ... but can I justify upgrading a computer that we are possibly going to replace next year? Decisions, decisions ...

3. I played with an iPad at the Apple Store ... and it was just as yummy as I thought it would be (though a little heavier) ... and I have a birthday with a zero in coming up ... and ... well, you can see where that line of thought is going!

3. I like spiders. Really. The fact that all UK spiders are harmless probably helps, but I am perfectly happy sharing my space with them - and this despite having a mother who loathes them with a passion. Angel and Star, on the other hand, hate them. Tevye and I went for a walk late on Wednesday and came home to find Star fast asleep in our bed, driven from her own room by ... :::shudder::: ... the presence of a small spider. What did I do wrong?

4. My favourite daft news story of the week: Bag-jacket beats Ryan Air luggage charges. Ryan Air and other budget European airlines sell flights for ridiculously low prices, but the flip side is that they charge high prices for carrying luggage other than a small carry-on bag. This reporter, however, discovered that there are no rules about clothing, and decided to wear his luggage!

5. I have no idea why it took me so long, but over the last couple of summers I have discovered the delights of varnished toe nails. I'm not big on varnished fingernails as they always chip, and I hate chipped nail varnish, but hate even more having to constantly renew or touch it up. Toes, however are different - the varnish lasts better (and in any case I don't notice the odd chip that far away from my middle-aged eyes) and they lend themselves more adventurous colours. Today's colour is Fancy Fuschia (very pink), and my current favourite is Boots No.7 Stay Perfect in Vivid Violet which matches the purple clothes phase I'm in. (Aside: Since I read Reading Lolita in Tehran last summer, I am truly grateful to live in a society where I can paint my toenails any colour I like and go out in public with bare toes without risk of punishment.)

6. Cherub has only six more playgroup sessions left to go. She is rather rueful, muttering "I'm going to miss playgroup!" on a regular basis. Hopefully she will enjoy school just as much.

7. Star was helping to bag up debris while my brother cut the hedges round our back garden at the weekend ... until she got distracted by the pink plastic rubbish sacks she was using and appeared in my bedroom dressed something like this (think pink and without the wings). Bin bag chic, anyone?

  Read more quick takes at Conversion Diary

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Summer Blog

Time to move on to a new blog design for summer. I have switched back to an old header picture of St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall, which is where we will be headed for our summer holiday at the end of the month.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Chocolate Caramel Shortbread

Today I made chocolate caramel shortbread ... that is one thing crossed off my list of things to do in July.

Here is the recipe I used, from Favourite Teatime Recipes. I have a handwritten recipe of my great-aunt's, dating back to the 1920s, which is identical except that it used larger amounts for the shortbread (9 oz / 6 oz / 3 oz). Not sure whether it was baked in a larger tin, or just made the shortbread part thicker.


6 oz (1 1/2 cups) self-raising flour
4oz (1/2 cup*) butter
2 oz (1/4 cup) caster sugar
4 oz (1/2 cup) caster sugar (I prefer soft brown suga)
4 oz (1/2 cup) butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup (light corn syrup)
1 small tin (170g / 6 oz) condensed milk
Chocolate to cover (I used 3/4 of a 200 gram bar)

Stage 1
Cream butter and sugar well. Stir in flour and a pinch of salt. Knead well and place in a greased Swiss Roll tin (I used a 7 x 11 inch tin). Bake at 325deg F or Gas Mk 3 for 30 minutes until pale brown.

Stage 2 
Place topping ingredients in a pan. Bring to the boil and boil for 5 minutes, stirring continuously. Pourr over cooked shortbread

Stage 3
When caramel is set cover with melted chocolate. Cut into squares with a sharp knife dipped in hot water.

* I took the American conversions from another book. Hopefully I got them right!

Monday, July 05, 2010

Simple Woman's Daybook: 5th July

Outside My Window ... grey clouds with the sun starting to break through. Another pleasantly warm and mostly sunny week forecast.

I am thinking ... about self-discipline (and my lack of it)

From the learning rooms ... Angel's last piece of English GCSE coursework is due in today, an essay on what the language used by the characters in the fight scene in Romeo and Juliet shows of their moods and motives. I'm so impressed with the way she has tackled these varied literature and language assignments. So far she has gained an A or A* mark for each one she has done.

I am thankful ... for Angel's English teacher, who has been responsible for transforming her from a decidedly average underachiever in the subject to an A / A* student.

From the kitchen ... chicken in BBQ sauce, rice and either sweetcorn or salad for dinner.

I am wearing ... black and white pyjama bottoms with a grey vest top.

I am creating ... a pair of cute white socks for myself.

I am going ... to take Cherub out to the country park for a picnic lunch. Last week I was rushing around too much to take advantage of the nice weather.

I am reading ... Biting the Wax Tadpole by Elizabeth Little.

I am hoping ... that the issues over Mum's cancelled surgery are resolved, and (assuming all is well) she doesn't have to wait too long for it to be rescheduled.

I am hearing ... silence, apart from a little traffic noise. Tevye has gone to work; Angel is up and putting the finishing touches to her English coursework; the other two girls are still asleep.

Around the house ... haven't been at home long enough this weekend to notice!

One of my favorite things ... watching Cherub dress herself. All that thought and effort to work out just how to get into items of clothing.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week ... a trip to the Apple Store (I need to try to get boot discs and want to peek at the iPad); end of year school disco for Star; more band at the weekend; hairdresser on Saturday (my hair is bugging me and I want it short for summer).

A Picture Thought I Am Sharing ...

Find instructions and links to other daybooks at The Simple Woman

Saturday, July 03, 2010

More Cherub Art

Some of Cherub's recent pictures. She loves the Get Squiggling TV show in which a cartoon character called Squiglet draws pictures that come alive, and a lot of her favourite things to draw are copied from Get Squiggling.

Monkey in a palm tree jungle, with bananas hanging from the trees (Squiglet inspired)

Cat and kittens (Squiglet style)

And an artist, with a picture on the easel of someone at the beach on a sunny day (all her own)

Friday, July 02, 2010

7 Quick Takes: 2nd July 2010

1. After all the waiting and worrying, my Mum's operation was cancelled. Last minute blood tests showed a low blood count and the surgeon wouldn't operate. He now also wants her checked out by a cardiologist before rescheduling. Not surprisingly, she is disappointed and frustrated ... and now back, if not to square one, then to square one-and-a-half. I, on the other hand, was (unreasonably?) relieved. I had been untypically anxious and had a bad feeling about this op. I'm hoping that the sudden closing of this particularly door is an indication that God has a better plan.

2. I have a couple of links for you today. First, an interesting article by historian David Cannadine on the way politics affects decisions about what history should be taught in schools: History, with rose-tinted hindsight. History is an inconsiderately fuzzy discipline, full of unresolved - and unresolvable - arguments. Not easy to compress into a textbook, particularly when interest groups want to push the "right kind of history" ... in other words, history that shows they are right, conveniently ignoring any evidence supporting other viewpoints.

3. The second link is to Linds at Rocking Chair Reflections. I loved this post on the need to write and blogging as recording our own  histories.
I write because I can't NOT write. It is a compulsion.

I write because the words are fighting to get out of my head, tumbling over one another in the process. It take time to sort them into some semblance of order, let me tell you. I write on squared paper (I LOVE European notebooks - they all write on little squares. Divine.) and I write on the back of till receipts. Anywhere. I write when I go walking - doodling away as I take frequent rests. The people I worked with used to laugh when they read my lesson reports - they were totally different to anything they had seen before. It doesn't matter what it is - I love words, and I love to write.

That, I suppose, is the answer to why I am here. Why I feel at home here in my small corner of the world wide web. The words. Oh my, are there many words.

Writing conjures up images in my mind, and I hope in the minds of those who read what I write. Recording events and memories of distant times, painting pictures for my children, for my family and friends, and for me. 
Pop over and read the rest.

4. This weekend is yet another where everyone is whizzing about in different directions. I ended up drawing up a flow chart using different colours for each family member with arrows showing who is going where and how they are getting back again. Is that efficient, or just bizarre? I am the worst culprit, as I have a manic musical weekend. On Saturday I'll be playing in my first orchestra concert since my four year break. That means a long rehearsal in the afternoon - which can be conveniently combined with a shopping trip for Star and her friend, as the Church where we rehearse is directly opposite the shopping centre -  and an evening concert. Then on Sunday I'm playing trombone at a village fete. I'm still loving the trombone, and starting to find a comfort zone with it where I can relax and enjoy playing, instead of always feeling stretched slightly further than my ability.

5. I am fascinated by the way Cherub draws. She first got enthusiastic about drawing a couple of months ago, and still spends a lot of time producing sheet after sheet of pictures. Although she will occasionally use coloured pencils or crayons, either to draw or to colour her picture, mostly she just likes to use a standard lead pencil. I'm impressed by her growing confidence, both in the way she holds her pencil (gently but firmly, with a pretty good grip), and in her ability to draw what she wants to draw. The way she draws is confident too - fast, accurate (good motor control) and very focused. It is also getting easier to work out what she's drawn without having to ask for clues!

6. Cherub has reached the stage of trying to tell jokes, but not really getting the idea of a joke beyond thinking that anything nonsensical is funny. She also thinks that all jokes must somehow involve chickens crossing roads. The results are surreal:

Q. How does a mouse cross a road on a chicken when cars are coming?
A. It gets squashed.

Q. How does a sun cross a road by a bridge if it doesn't have any legs?
A. It has to go on a chicken.

7.  I picked up an intriguing looking book at the library last week ... Biting the Wax Tadpole: Misadventures of an Armchair Linguist, by Elizabeth Little. From the back cover:
From the language that has no different word for 'blue' or 'green', to why Icelanders need official permission to name their children, from Jabba the Hutt and Smurf-speak to what the Swedish names of Ikea products actually mean, from what makes a Korean TV hit to what people might think you're saying if you order eggs in Spain, Biting the Wax Tadpole will ensure you're never lost for words again.
 How could I resist?

  Read more quick takes at Conversion Diary